CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
One of the first things I read in German after we arrived was a short article in our local paper about the proper way to “Lüft” (air out) a house in winter in order to save on energy costs. It encouraged readers to air out the house all at once, instead of leaving windows tilted open all day. Windows open in the winter? I got a taste of it later around Christmas time when we were visiting some friends. As our kids played together and all four parents chatted, my husband’s friend went to the window and opened it, saying the “air quality” really suffers when so many people are in a room together. I quickly sniffed myself, thinking it was his polite way of saying someone stinks, but it was just a normal German reaction to a crowded room.
Fresh air is very important to Germans, and with some good reason. Many of my German friends complain that indoor spaces in the US tend to be too stuffy and the air is too stale. I brushed the idea off until our last visit when I was indoors with the air conditioning running and noticed how dry and itchy my throat had gotten. A daily dose of fresh air is considered essential for good health, and children are encouraged to play outdoors, even in the rain and the snow. It’s not uncommon to find outdoor cafés with blankets on the seats in winter so that you can enjoy the fresh air even when it’s cold. There’s also a widely-held belief that airing out the house helps clear the air of germs that may be lingering. (Although, I still think that my husband’s claim that staying indoors too long causes strep throat is not entirely accurate).
If you’re from the East coast of the US, where there tend to be older buildings that still use radiators for heat, the idea of airing the house might be familiar to you, but for someone from the Midwest, it was about as foreign as you can get. German homes generally do not use “forced-air” heating and cooling, meaning that there is no air being circulated and drawn in from outside. This is why one of the most popular topics on many expat forums is “Why are my windows always fogging up?” Depending on your home, windows here often create pretty good seal, and without circulating air from heating and cooling, all the moisture builds up in the house and condenses on the glass.
You can do something about it, though. First, wipe off any condensation you see on the windows or around the window frames. If you just leave it there, it will eventually get moldy. Second, air the house out at least 2 times a day by fully opening at least one window in each room for about 2-3 minutes. You need to open them simultaneously so you create a draft. It’s not a bad idea to do this after everyone has had their morning shower, since that creates a lot of moisture in the air. In our neighborhood I often see people stacking their bedding (comforter and pillows) in the window as they air the house out. This is a two-for-one: it keeps the window from slamming shut and it gets some fresh air on your bedding.
So don’t be afraid. Throw your windows open like a German and sniff the air and say, “Ahhh, frische Lüft!”